Volume 1 Number 2. December 1996.
The following light hearted short story by Chekhov I thought might offer some welcome relief to those suffering from computophobia in the late twentieth century. I make no apologies for presenting it in a philosophical journal, for Chekhov was one of the most philosophic of authors who ever lived. Those who doubt this should re-read The Cherry Orchard. With all good wishes for the New Year. Mercator.
By Anton Chekhov
"Operator. May I help you?" Says a woman's voice.
"Give me the Slavyansky Bazaar Hotel"
"Trying to connect you".
After three minutes I hear a ringing sound.....I glue the earpiece to my ear and hear a sound of a rather indeterminate character: it could be the wind blowing, or dried peas being scattered on the floor..... Somebody seems to be whispering.
"Do you have any rooms available?" I ask.
"No one is at home", replies a faltering, childish little voice. "Mummy and Daddy have gone to see Serpahima Petrovna and Louisa Frantsevna has got flu".
"And who are you? Are you from The Slavyansky Bazaar Hotel?"
"I'm Seryozha. My daddy's a doctor. He sees people in the morning."
"Ah. Listen sweetheart, I don't need a doctor. I want the Slavyansky Bazaar."
"What Bazaar?" (Laughter) "Now I know who you are. You're Pavel Andreich. We got a letter from Katya!" (Laughter). "She's going to marry an officer. When are you going to buy me some paints?"
I leave the telephone and after ten minutes I try again.
"Give me the Slavyansky Bazaar".
"At last!" replies a hoarse, base voice. "Is Fuchs with you?"
"Who on earth is Fuchs? I want the Slavyansky Bazaar Hotel !"
"You're at the Slavyansky Bazaar! That's wonderful!. We can finish all our business today. I'll be right there. Do me a favour, would you, and order me a portion of spiced sturgeon. I haven't yet had any lunch."
"Phhh. God knows what is going on!" I think to myself, and once again abandon the telephone. "Perhaps I don't really know how to use a telephone, I am just getting it all confused. Wait a minute. Let me think carefully how you do it. First you have to turn this thing here, then you unhook this thing and hold it to your ear.... Then.... What next? You have to hang this thing on this one and then turn this widget round three times. It seems to me that that's just exactly how it's done."
I ring again. No reply. I ring with a sort of fury, almost risking breaking the apparatus. There is a sound in the earpiece, rather like the sound of mice running over a piece of paper.
"Who am I speaking to?" I bellow into the phone. "Speak up. Louder!"
"Timothy Vaksin and Sons. Manufacturers of -."
"Thankyou, thankyou very much. I don't need any of your goods."
"Is that Sitchov? Mitchell already told us that - ."
I hang up and once more subject myself to a close examination. Could I be doing it all wrong? I read through the instructions again, smoke a cigarette and then try once more. No reply.
"I suppose it must be that the telephones at The Slavyansky Bazaar are out of order." I think to myself. "I'll try The Hermitage instead."
I carefully read through the instructions on how to get through to the exchange, and then ring.
"Give me The Hermitage!" I shout at the top of my voice. "THE HER-MIT- AGE."
Five minutes go by. Ten minutes. My endurance is close to breaking point, then suddenly, Hooray!, I hear a ringing sound.
"This is the Exchange."
"Prrrrr! Give me 'The Hermitage'. For God's sake!!"
"Trying to connect you."
At last it appears my sufferings are about to come to an end. I am breaking out into a sweat.
The bell rings. I seize the mouthpiece and screech into it "Have you got a single room?"
"Mummy and Daddy have gone to see Seraphima Petrovna and Louisa Fratsovna has got flu. No one is at home."
"Is that you Seryozha?"
"It's me. Who's that?" (Laughter) "Pavel Andreich? Why didn't you come to us yesterday evening?" (Laughter) "Daddy gave us a Chinese Lantern show. He put on Mummy's hat and pretended to be Avdotya Nikolaevna...."
Suddenly Seryozha's voice breaks off and silence descends. I hang up the earpiece and ring for three minutes without stopping, until my fingers start to ache. I shout into the machine "Give me the Hermitage! The Restaurant on Trubniy Square. Can you hear me or not?!"
"Certainly I can hear you Sir. But this is not The Hermitage. This is The Slavyansky Bazaar."
"Is it really The Slavyansky Bazaar?"
"Indeed it is Sir. The Slavyansky Bazaar at your service."
"Whew! I cannot understand it. Do you have any free rooms?"
"I will just check for you Sir."
A minute passes. Several minutes pass. Through the earpiece there is a light noise like voices in a shower of rain.
"Tell me. Do you have free rooms or not?"
"What exactly is it you want?" a woman's voice asks me.
"Is that The Slavyansky Bazaar?"
"This is The Exchange. How may I help you?"
(Continuation ad infinitum).
Translated by G.R.Ledger. No apologies to BT. 26 December 1996.